Ben Purcell was born on February 14, 1928, in Banks County, Georgia. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy on January 22, 1946, and served at Naval Base Charleston, South Carolina, until leaving active duty on December 24, 1946, remaining in the U.S. Naval Reserve until his honorable discharge on February 28, 1948. He then enrolled in the Army ROTC program at North Georgia College in Dahlonega, Georgia, and was commissioned a 2d Lt of Infantry in the U.S. Army on March 15, 1950. His first assignment was as Company Commander of Company A and then B of the 87th Infantry Regiment at Fort Riley, Kansas, from April to October 1950, and then as Company Commander of Company L with the 61st Infantry Regiment at Fort Riley from October to November 1950. Lt Purcell next served as a staff officer with Headquarters 61st Infantry Regiment at Fort Riley and then at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, from November 1950 to May 1951, followed by service as a staff officer with Headquarter Company, 2nd Battalion of the 32nd Infantry Regiment in South Korea from May to December 1951. He served as Aide-de-Camp to the Commanding General of X Corps in South Korea from December 1951 to May 1952, and as Aide-de-Camp to the Commanding General of the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea from May to June 1952. Lt Purcell next served as Aide-de-Camp to the Commanding General of The Infantry Center at Fort Benning, Georgia, from June to July 1952, followed by Airborne School and Advanced Infantry Officer Training at Fort Benning from July to December 1952. He served as Executive Officer of Company I of the 508th Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning from December 1952 to January 1953, and then as Assistant Training and Operations Officer with the 508th from January to August 1953. Capt Purcell attended the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California, for Nuclear Engineering studies from August 1953 to October 1954, and then served as Chief of the Monitoring Section, Chief of the Dosimetry and Records Section, and finally as Commanding Officer of the 1st Radiological Safety Support Unit at Fort McClellan, Alabama, from October 1954 to October 1956. His next assignment was as a staff officer with Company D, International Student Division with the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning from November 1956 to August 1957, followed by The Infantry Officer Advanced Course #1 at Fort Benning from August 1957 to April 1958. He served as Commander of Headquarters Company, as Assistant S-3 for Air, and then as Commander of Company D, 2nd Battle Group of the 1st Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning from April 1958 to June 1959. Maj Purcell next served as a staff officer with the U.S. Communications Zone, Europe, in France from July 1959 to June 1962, followed by U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, from August 1962 to June 1963. LTC Purcell served as Professor of Military Science with the Army ROTC detachment at Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri, from July 1963 to July 1967, and then served as Deputy Commander of the DaNang Sub-Area Command and as Executive Officer of the 80th General Support Group in South Vietnam from September 1967 until he was captured and taken as a Prisoner of War after the helicopter he was riding aboard was shot down on February 8, 1968. After spending 1,875 days in captivity, Col Purcell was released during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973, having given up his previous release date of March 16 to Air Force Colonel Ted Guy. As the highest ranking Army POW, Col Purcell spent most of his captivity in solitary confinement. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries, and then attended Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, from August 1973 to June 1974. He then served as an instructor at Army War College from June 1974 to February 1976, followed by service as Commander of the 3rd Basic Combat Training Brigade at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, from February 1976 to August 1977. His final assignment was as Professor of Military Science at the Army ROTC detachment at North Georgia College from August 1977 until his retirement from the Army on September 1, 1980. After retiring from the Army, Ben served as the District #9 State Representative in the Georgia Assembly from September 1993 to January 1997, and later served on the Georgia Veterans' Service Board from April 1998 to April 2005. He married the former Anne Grant of Baldwin, Georgia, on January 20, 1951, and they had six children together-David, Clarice (1955-1959), Debbie, Cliff, Sherri, and Joy. Ben Purcell died on April 2, 2013, and was buried at the Level Grove Baptist Church Cemetery in Cornelia, Georgia.
His 2nd Silver Star Citation reads:
For gallantry in action: Colonel Benjamin H. Purcell, Infantry, distinguished himself by gallantry and intrepidity in action as a Prisoner of War in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force in Southeast Asia during March 1972. With profound courage and a strong conviction in the Code of Conduct he escaped from an enemy prisoner of war camp, knowing that the odds of success were slight and that if recaptured he would receive torture and long periods in solitary confinement. The success of his escape was short lived, and he was recaptured and punished. This officer's actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military services and reflect great credit on him and the United States Army.